Friday 30 August 2013

Pot Fragments Matter

Group of part of the approximately 
10,000 terracotta vase fragments
from the Bothmer collection.

One of the themes that has emerged from the return of antiquities to Italy has been the role of fragmented pots. Sometimes pots have been reconstructed from sherds apparently brought together from numerous collections or dealers. Such pots would include the krater attributed to the Berlin painter that was returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum. And the acquisition of sherds has not been without controversy. And we could reflect on the fragments added to the Berlin painter's amphora once in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harvard's purchase (via a New York dealer) of the Robert Guy collection was not without  comment and has been used by James Cuno to support his views on antiquities. And we could consider the major collection formed by Dietrich von Bothmer: a small selection has been returned to Italy (apparently as they are associated with material already owned) and more recently fragments will be handed over to Italian authorities after an identification made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. Or there are fragments like the one attributed to the Euaion painter in Princeton.

These small fragments of time deserve more attention.

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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Negotiating Culture: New Book Published

Laetitia La Follette, Vice President for Professional Responsibilities at the AIA, has edited a new book, Negotiating Culture: Heritage, Ownership and Intellectual Property (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013) [Publisher].
Rival claims of ownership or control over various aspects of culture are a regular feature of our twenty-first-century world. Such debates are shaping disciplines as diverse as anthropology and archaeology, art history and museum studies, linguistics and genetics. 
This provocative collection of essays—a series of case studies in cultural ownership by scholars from a range of fields—explores issues of cultural heritage and intellectual property in a variety of contexts, from contests over tangible artifacts as well as more abstract forms of culture such as language and oral traditions to current studies of DNA and genes that combine nature and culture, and even new, nonproprietary models for the sharing of digital technologies. Each chapter sets the debate in its historical and disciplinary context and suggests how the approaches to these issues are changing or should change. 
One of the most innovative aspects of the volume is the way each author recognizes the social dimensions of group ownership and demonstrates the need for negotiation and new models. The collection as a whole thus challenges the reader to reevaluate traditional ways of thinking about cultural ownership and to examine the broader social contexts within which negotiation over the ownership of culture is taking place.
La Folette's essay is on "The trial of Marion True and changing policies for Classical Antiquities in American Museums".

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Princeton and the Euaion painter

There is an interesting pot sherd in the Princeton University Art Museum. It was acquired in 2002 in memory of Emily Townsend Vermeule. It is attributed to the Euaion painter. Who made the attribution?

The sherd does not appear to be in the Beazley Archive. When did it surface? What is its collecting history? Who was the donor?

An email to the relevant curator has gone unacknowledged.

An email to James Steward, the Director of PUAM has gone unacknowledged.

Can we assume that the PUAM does not wish to release the collecting history?

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Tuesday 13 August 2013

SLAM Director: Question of Integrity

Mummy mask from Saqqara
SLAM Director
The Director of SLAM (Saint Louis Art Museum) is facing a dilemma. Does he believe that the Egyptian mummy mask found at Saqqara, and acquired by his museum, was in Cairo in 1966? It appears in the Cairo register.

But that would mean that the parallel collecting history, apparently supplied by the Swiss-based vendor, is little more than fiction.

And if the vendor's collecting history is fiction, then there is a lack of fact.

And the lack of fact means that the mummy mask was likely to have been removed from the Saqqara store in an irregular way.

But that means that SLAM has been using less than sound evidence to defend its position.

Is it time for the Director of SLAM to show his integrity and to start negotiating for the return of the mask?

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Heritage Crime in Devon: Torbryan

The Torbryan panel before the theft.
Source: The Churches Conservation Trust
Medieval panels dating to the 15th century have been stolen from the church of Holy Trinity, Torbryan, Devon [Press release].
The oak screen with panels is one of the most important examples of its kind in the country. Its mid-15th-century painted panels represent a variety of saints and church dignitaries. The artistry is of a very high status, suggesting that the artist was specially commissioned to produce the panels for the screen. Even though some of the panels have been missing for many years the Torbryan screen represents an exceptionally complete survival from the late medieval period that escaped the worst excesses of the iconoclasts who took down most of the screens in the country during the reformation, especially those that included representations of saints.
No doubt this will appear on the market as part of an old European collection.

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Monday 12 August 2013

SLAM: will the museum do the right thing?

There has been renewed covered of the Egyptian mummy mask excavated at Saqqara acquired by the Saint Louis Art Museum. The mask has parallel collecting histories. This is a mask that the museum implicitly asserts was sold in Brussels in 1952 and allegedly acquired by the Kaloterna collection in 1962. Yet amazingly the mask was in Cairo in 1966, but was acquired by an anonymous Swiss collector around 1967.

I do not believe it. Do the curators at SLAM believe it?

Will  they publish the full authenticated and documented collecting history? And how do they explain the mask's appearance in Cairo in 1966?

Perhaps Jason Busch, the newly appointed deputy director would like to make a comment? Or how about the director, Brent R. Benjamin?

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...